Senior Jenny Gallagher has accomplished nearly everything a high school athlete can set as a goal.
The long-distance runner has been an all-conference and all-county selection for four years at Lake Norman, claiming several Wildcat distance records and earning the chance to run collegiately along the way. She even won the 3A cross-country state title as a sophomore.
With that illustrious career coming to an end, Gallagher admits she has mixed feelings.
"It's kind of bittersweet," the 18-year-old said. "I'm going to miss it, but I'm so happy that I was able to accomplish so much. I know there's bigger and better stuff out there, because I'm running at Elon next year, but I'm so thankful for this experience."
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Gallagher, who holds the school's mile record among others, has had a strong year, leading her Wildcats to an I-Meck girls' track and field championship.
Her high school career almost didn't happen.
Gallagher, who began doing 5K races at age 8, didn't start running competitively until she joined Brawley Middle's cross country team.
She admits she didn't know if she would keep running in high school, being skeptical about how successful she could be. Gallagher is glad she made the decision to go for it.
"I just fell in love with it," she said.
After a somewhat low-key freshman year, Gallagher broke through at the Iredell County cross country meet her sophomore year, winning the event. From then on, her confidence went through the ceiling and she started to win consistently, going on to surprise many older runners to claim a state championship that year.
Lake Norman cross country and girls' track coach Kathleen Scott said Gallagher's confidence is what has made her so successful.
"She sees herself as one of the best and wants to maintain that," said Scott.
She added that Gallagher's drive and work ethic are also unparalleled.
"She's competitive enough to go out on her own and really be aggressive to getting what she wants," said Scott.
Gallagher said she's focused on beating not only her opponents, but also her best time in every race.
That's why her pride was hurt at the I-Meck championships last month. Despite winning the mile, she was disappointed to come in second in the 800- and 3,200-meter races.
"That definitely put everything in perspective," she said. "It's motivated me to do better."
Gallagher explains it's that competitiveness and the strategy involved in the sport that pushes her to train every day to continue improving.
Scott said Gallagher has also become her team's core, setting a good example by giving it her all whether it's at practice or at a meet.
She added Gallagher, who she said cheers her teammates on regardless of how tired she is after a race, tries to use her success to motivate her teammates.
"Everybody on the team puts Jenny on this little pedestal - that's like 'Oh, my God. I'm not going to be able to reach that,'" said Scott. "But Jenny turns that back around and is like 'Why can't you do that? You do the same workouts I do, there's no reason why you can't do what I do.'"
That might have paid off, with the Wildcats having what Scott put as a "surprisingly outstanding" year. In addition to the girls winning the conference title, the boys sent a school-best number of athletes to last weekend's regional.
"Every year we keep getting better and better," said Scott.
With high school nearing an end, Gallagher is looking forward to her days at Elon.
"I'm so excited," she said. "I love the coach. I love the teammates that I've met so far.
"I can't wait to be with all the girls that want to accomplish the same things that I do. ... Everyone on that team is super motivated so that's going to help me."
Scott knows she and her Wildcats will miss Gallagher.
"It's going to be hard to find somebody to leads us like she does," said Scott. "She's a true leader."